Written by: Aleksandar Žiljak
Although the elements of fantastic and speculative (as far as science in the modern sense is concerned) in the Croatian literature can be traced back to the years immediately before and after World War I (for instance, the novel Crveni ocean (The Red Ocean - 1918) by Marija Jurić – Zagorka and some stories by Vladimir Nazor), it is generally agreed today that the first true Croatian SF novel was Na Pacifiku 2255. (On The Pacific In 2255) by Milan Šufflay, first serialised in 1924 and re-issued in a book-form in 1998.
In 1932, Mato Hanžeković published Gospodin čovjek (A Man Of Rank), a utopia about a group of people rebuilding the civilisation destroyed in a new world war. Even more novels and stories appeared in Zagreb during the 1920s and 1930s, mostly by authors using pen-names, initials, or altogether omitting to sign themselves. Claimed by some authorities to be the best are Muri Massanga (1927) by Mladen Horvat and a series of novels by Aldion Degal (most likely a pseudonym): Atomska raketa (The Atomic Rocket), Zrake smrti (The Death Rays) and Smaragdni skarabej (The Emerald Scarab), all dating from early 1930s. Also worthy of mention is the novel Majstor Omega osvaja svijet (The Omega Master Conquers The World) by Stan Rager, serialised in 1940. Stan Rager was a pseudonym used by Stanko Radovanović and Zvonimir Furtinger (whom we’ll encounter later) writing in tandem. Very little is known of these texts today, most of them being serialised in newspapers and magazines. They are seldom available and they need to be more thoroughly studied and critically evaluated. The same goes for some proto-SF works dating as far back as the Renaissance.
Better appreciated are the early Croatian SF comics from the 1930s. The first-ever was Gost iz svemira (The Guest From Outer Space) by Božidar Rašić and Leontije Bjelski, published in 1935 in Zagreb, followed by Krešimir Kovačić and Andrija Maurović’s Ljubavnica s Marsa (The Mistress From Mars) and Podzemna carica (The Underground Empress).
Croatian SF Comes Of Age
Some SF stories by Croatian authors, still using pseudonyms, were published even during World War 2. Immediate post-war years, with the war-winning Communist Party becoming the ruling political force in Yugoslavia and Croatia, represented a short lull in the continuity of the Croatian SF. However, the 1950s saw an increase in number of translated novels (by American, Russian and European authors) published by various Yugoslav publishers.
As far as Croatia is concerned, late 1950s and early to mid-1960s were definitely marked by Mladen Bjažić and Zvonimir Furtinger, writing in tandem. Both stemmed from the juvenile magazine Plavi vjesnik, where Bjažić was the editor, while Furtinger contributed stories (most notable being his SF novelette Vila na otoku – The Villa on an Island) and scripted comics. Their first collaborative effort was Osvajač 2 se ne javlja (The Conqueror 2 Does Not Reply), first published in 1959. Svemirska nevjesta (The Space Bride), Varamunga – tajanstveni grad (Varamunga – The Mysterious City) and the juvenile novel Zagonetni stroj profesora Kružića (The Mysterious Machine Of Professor Kružić) followed in 1960, Mrtvi se vraćaju (The Dead Return) in 1965 and Ništa bez Božene (Nothing Without Božena – being an updated version of The Mysterious Machine Of Professor Kružić) in 1970. Well-written, these novels deal with cosmic catastrophes, aliens visiting Earth, artificial intelligence and robotics, and various machines, such as matter replicator and anti-gravity device. Character-oriented, action-packed and spiced with humour and fine irony, they often include elements of the mystery genre. Bjažić and Furtinger novels were the pioneering works in Croatian science fiction, introducing many new and fresh ideas and it is no wonder that they were very popular. Being reprinted several times, they undoubtedly influenced many fans and subsequent writers, which makes them even more important. Both Bjažić and Furtinger were very prolific authors of popular and juvenile literature, but Furtinger remained more faithful to SF, writing a considerable number of SF stories and radio-plays on his own.
After Bjažić and Furtinger, the second most important author was Angelo Ritig with his novels Sasvim neobično buđenje (Quite an Unusual Awakening – 1961) and Ljubav u neboderu (Love in the Skyscraper - 1965). As opposed to Bjažić and Furtinger, who were concerned with action and humour, Ritig was more interested in psychological development of his characters facing technologies such as brain transfer and a mind-reading device. It’s a pity that he wrote only two science fiction novels, because he was successfully combining mature literary style with interesting scientific speculations and convincing futuristic settings.
Silvije Ružić published the juvenile Uspavani diktator (The Sleeping Dictator) in 1961, while Milan Nikolić, otherwise a very prolific and skilful crime and mystery writer, ventured into SF with his 1960 novel Zovem Jupiter … Beležite (Calling Jupiter … Take Notes).
Other Croatian authors of that period were mostly writing SF novels for children, the tradition continuing to the present day.